As Hurricane Irene plodded towards us and I went through my list of preparations, I looked at my kids, embedded in the sofa, eyes fixated on the flat screen, and I nearly lost it. I felt a compulsion to run around shrieking, “How can you watch TV at a time like this? The flood is coming! The trees will blow over. Wind, rain, lightening, tornadoes! Get off your butts!”
But I didn’t.
Instead, I did the fatherly thing and quietly went about moving garbage cans and tying down the outdoor furniture. In the face of the storm, I shed my modern, emotional honesty for a 1950s father-face, the unflappable, show-no-fear parental facade, a model of calm to my household. In some ways, this was a very unsatisfying role to play (and, in others, it was quite different from my parenting page counterpart, “Fearless Parenting”). But in other ways, well, I felt cool as a cucumber and kind of macho, in a domestic sort of way.
I’ve never thought much of that old-school type of father from the ’50s and ’60s — think of television dads like Ward Cleaver in “Leave it to Beaver,” Jim Anderson in “Father Knows Best” or Steve Douglas in “My Three Sons.” They seemed too removed and distant from their children, watching always at arms length. Yet in the end, they were always in command, firmly but gently, bringing stability to their homes.
My girls did tape a couple of windows and help me move one or two heavier items, but they only made a token contribution to securing our abode. I was moving bicycles and filling pitchers with drinking water. As Irene’s rain started coming in bands, my daughters baked cookies, created a wonderful dinner of home-made pasta — and left the kitchen a mess.
I was up at 12:30 am, as were my kids. They were glued to the screen again while I cleared the drain outside the kitchen which was clogged with debris and beginning to push water under the door. I got a garbage can under a small roof leak, saving the carpet. At 4 am I plugged holes to keep more water out of the basement and adjusted the refrigerator so it’d be really cold in case we lost power.
Of course, by 9 am the worst was over and my wife and I took the dog for a long, leisurely walk while the girls snoozed away. The biggest storm to hit Brooklyn in years, barely affected them.
My calm may have given them a sense of security, but did I miss something by not sharing my anxieties with them? Should I have looked at the radar images and shouted, “OH MY GOD, WHAT AN ENORMOUS STORM”? I believe in showing my feelings to my daughters. Indeed, by broadcasting my fears and then working through them, my girls can learn something useful. By sharing, I also get some comfort and camaraderie. It’s nice to face a tempest with people to cushion my concerns.
But through Irene’s passage, I kept my worries inside, and felt manly doing it, satisfied to be the rock of my home. Don’t get me wrong, I like being a modern dad, engaged and involved with my children. But for the first time I could see that there are other ways to be a father and a man and give something to my family. The dads of the last generation, my own father, whose parenting I usually dismiss as an unworthy model, probably did get some fulfillment from their buttoned up family roles.
I learned it can feel good to be stoic and tough — at least for a weekend.